While younger Asterix readers generally prefer the episodes involving a travel in some place in the world, the more mature ones prefer the sedentary stories, as they often reflect a relevant (and comical) aspect of French society through its great incarnation: the Gallic village. On that level, "The Mansion of Gods" is one of the best Asterix adventures, which is saying a lot.
It all starts with a clever idea from Julius Caesar: if the Gauls don't surrender to the Army because of the magic potion, then he'll make them surrender to progress. He'll build a vast mansion inside the forest, near the village, in order to attract Roman tourists and Romanize the Gauls in the process. The first act of the story consists on the Gauls preventing the Romans from taking the trees, thanks to Getafix' treated acorns, trees grow back faster than they're uprooted by Romans. Finally, the Gauls let the Romans build the mansion because it is the only way to free the slaves. Roman civilians come, their presence affect the Gauls' business habits and lifestyle, and just when the village was about to become a Roman colony, Asterix brings Cacofonix the bard in the mansion. The civilians leave, and their replacement by Roman soldiers seals the mansion's fate.
But the story ends on a rather lucid tone. Asterix asks Getafix if they can really stop the progress, like they did, Getafix replies "of course not, but we have time", we get it, the forest is just given a suspended sentence. It is truly one of the best stories because it questions our relationship to our environment and our culture, especially in these days where frontiers have been erased and the world seems caught in such a perpetual evolution it is almost dizzying. There's a part in the film where Vitalstatistix, imitating De Gaulle, says "I understood you". Clearly, this is a line that could apply to Alexandre Astier. Not only he understood Asterix (and you can tell this is the work of a fan), but he rewrote the story in such a way that he clearly understands the world we live in.
It goes without saying that neither "Asterix Conquers America", nor "Asterix and the Vikings" were made by people who understood what Asterix was about. One tried too much to imitate Disney while the other thought it could catch the 2000's audience by inserting many anachronistic jokes and adding a useless romantic subplot (the one heart-warming relationship in the film is between Obelix and a little Roman boy, and it works very well). Astier does inject in his film a form of humor that is extremely relevant to 2010's audience, especially the way, he pretends not to take it seriously, but it is a seriously made film, one that respects the spirit of the original albums, one that would have made Goscinny proud, and according to Uderzo, the best adaptation to date. What more endorsement can you need after that?
I had a few doubts though, Astier was known for his TV parody of King Arthur's epic parody "Kaamelot" but then the casting list, made me wonder if it wasn't just another star-studded film, where we'd care less for the story than the voices we'd hear. But then again, Alain Chabat's "Mission Cleopatra" was the best adaptation of Asterix (on any format) and the casting was part of the magic potion. But the real ingredient, one that the two films have in common, that extra spice so severely lacking in the other adaptations, is their love for Goscinny's humor, and its compatibility with their own humor, so their instinct pays off, they don't waste the good gags and remove those that won't, necessarily work on a big screen.
For instance, one of my favorite lines in the book is when a senator notices Caesar talking of himself at the third person, he says "he's great", "who?" asks Caesar, "well, you", "ow, him", Caesar says. Good for the book, not so in a film. Astier knows it and makes Caesar laugh like a manic villain and the senators wonder whether its devilish or malefic, which is typical Astiers humor deviation from the story and let characters talk for the sake of talking, but when it's such great writing, no one can refuse it, even the character of Duplicatha, the African slaves' leader is given much more magnitude than in the book. And that's all to the credit of Astier who finds new comical elements to add in every scene, and let also give the credit to the director, Louis Clichy, who made his bones in Pixar, and knew how to enrich rather banal scenes with the sort of slapstick humor only CGI can provide efficiently, making Asterix finally compatible with the Third Millennium.
Of course, I feel like a blasphemy saying the film improves the book, but you'd be surprised by how incredibly creative the film gets. In fact, the original book only inspires the first act of the film. In the second act, the Gauls start to enjoy the presence of the Romans, and end up living in the Mansion, then we have a splendid montage sequence, with a 80's Italian hit-song, showing the Gauls trying to fit within Roman lifestyle, wearing sandals, eating grapes, taking sauna baths and so forth. The third act is the climactic fight inside the Mansion, and for the first time since "Cleopatra" you really feel you watch something new, where even the process of making the potion is not taken for granted, when the Gaul's strength show its limitations... even the climax of "Twelve Tasks" didn't leave much suspense in the outcome.
This is a school-case of adaptation with three separate acts, totally different one another, and each one providing different kind of thrills and excitement, which made me wonder if it's not a sign of fate that there is Astier in Asterix, I guess the Gods of Animation were with him.
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